AFTER MONTHS of discussion, legal argument, and deliberation, the judicial review verdict we delivered at Trees for Life on beaver management returned from Sessional Court. While we understand the verdict is not clear to everyone, this is an opportunity to look ahead and create an approach to beaver management in Scotland that allows farmers and beavers to thrive. in tandem – and on the basis that there is far more to unite the interests of agriculture and conservation than they divide them.
We can all agree on the fundamental importance of agriculture for all as a supplier of food and a source of rural employment. Farmers are key players in environmental sustainability and have been proactive in explaining how agriculture can make some of the most significant contributions to the climate and natural emergencies we all face. Any beaver management system should recognize and seek to support these fundamental points.
The value of agriculture should be even more in our sights at a time when costs are rising alarmingly and the economic outlook is baffling. As I wrote in these pages last January, for farmers in Tayside, the loss of crops and shoreline stability due to beaver impacts is another issue beyond their control and beyond their control. their control.
We can also agree that a beaver management system should reflect the shared value and importance placed on nature and wildlife by all involved. It is not fair that farmers who experience beaver damage are seen as anti-wildlife or unsympathetic to the key role beavers can play in allowing other species to thrive and our ecosystems to function well. healthy. Likewise, conservationists should not be seen as anti-farmers. In fact – for ourselves and for many others – a system that does not work for farmers will also have failed for beavers and other wildlife.
We need an approach that helps farm businesses thrive – in part because of beavers rather than in spite of them. And we need a long-term sustainable solution. It is clear that the current beaver management system, characterized by a scarcity of resources and high levels of lethal control, is failing to do this. So what could look better?
Well, we have to reduce the size of the problem by moving to a situation where beaver strikes occur less often. Beavers want to spend as little time as possible away from water – which is why creating habitat strips next to streams gives them a space they can live in, dramatically reducing impacts on waterways. farming lands. Riparian habitats offer a host of other major benefits such as carbon sequestration, natural flood reduction and improved water quality.
Trees for Life believes this should be provided in a way that leaves farms in a better financial position. Solutions to reduce the frequency of beaver impacts on farmland mean removing some land from production – and we therefore advocate for increased support to farmers to reflect the financial implications and to provide a reliable and meaningful source of farm income. , in return for the value of the benefits it would bring to society. These advantages, compared to the costs of doing nothing, will undoubtedly provide good value for money in supporting agriculture and our environment.
Having taken measures to reduce the impacts, then we need an effective hierarchy of options to deal with the residual problems caused by beavers on productive lands. This should include the proven option of moving beavers to other parts of Scotland where the potential for serious impacts to agriculture is low, before resorting to lethal control.
Moving beavers to suitable habitats where animals are welcome has been a central part of beaver management in other parts of Europe, and is currently being offered by DEFRA for use in England. Trees for Life has repeatedly pointed out that we are aware that live trapping may not always be effective or practical – and therefore we support the availability of lethal control as a real last resort in dealing with beaver issues.
Of course, we need to identify the areas to which the beavers can be relocated. We know the habitat is there because NatureScot has identified over 105,000 hectares of land across Scotland that would be suitable for beavers. The other essential step is the public consultation involving real conversations with the local population on the advantages and disadvantages of bringing beavers to new areas.
Beyond this, adequate resources to manage the impacts of beavers on any new area must be in place, along with a solid and practical plan for the implementation of this management.
While there are many places in Scotland where Beavers could return immediately, there has to be a dialogue where everyone’s views are heard, with respect. If a local community doesn’t want beavers, you have to look elsewhere. At Argaty Red Kites near Doune, a family farm recently completed such a listening process and has just received the first license in Scotland to move beavers from Tayside to a new area bordering the current range.
These principles of beaver management have been proven in practice in very similar situations elsewhere. We know we have the means to achieve a better approach that will benefit farmers, while helping to reverse the severe degradation of nature that we all face and fight against the degradation of the climate. It is also clear that all stakeholders have a lot of motivation to get to such a point. What is now essential to ensure such progress is that the Scottish Government gives NatureScot the freedom it needs to act.